vendredi, juillet 04, 2008


After a quiet morning of re-packing my bags and sorting out the stuff that I was leaving behind (my host was kind enough to hold onto one piece of luggage with my winter clothes in it, so that I didn’t’ have to lug it to Berlin and back), I got ready to head to the airport for my 14h00 flight to Berlin. I still had one very large and heavy piece of luggage, another overstuffed carry-on case, and my backpack. Considering that today was the first day of le grand départ (i.e., grades and acceptances have just been announced for students, who now leave Paris in droves for vacations) I had braced myself for a long hike through the Paris subway stations to get myself to Orly airport.

My host and his daughter thought (sensibly) that my plan was insane, and tried to persuade me to take a cab. We checked the traffic online and it wasn’t too bad, so I decided to get a cab. As it turned out, most of the cab phone-lines were busy, and those that weren’t refused to come to the centre of the 20th arrondissement to pick me up, because apparently rue de Belleville was running too slowly.

So, I set off by foot to place Gambetta, which had a taxi stand that I hoped would have a cab arriving soon. Also, place Gambetta was downhill from where I was starting, so it made the walk with luggage a bit easier. Once I got to the taxi stand, I found a cluster of people already waiting for a cab, so I had to wait while everyone else fought over the first few cabs. Again, the cabbies seemed to have the right to refuse service: they would ask, “Where are you going?” and if they didn’t like the destination, they would just keep driving. In Toronto and Chicago, cabbies can’t ask where you’re going until you’re in the car, and they can’t unreasonably refuse service once you’re in the car.

Anyway, my cab eventually came. He pulled a u-turn on a busy street to get to me, which got him into some trouble with a woman who followed him into the u-turn, thinking he was turning down a side street that she obviously wanted to reach. This meant the cabbie couldn’t back out to complete his turn, and oncoming traffic was approaching. The situation was eventually resolved, but not without a lot of yelling and hand gestures.

The drive to the airport was a bit slow and uneventful, as was the check-in at the airport and the flight itself. Within a few hours, I found myself at the Berlin Schoenfeld Airport, hauling my (thankfully four-wheeled) luggage toward the S-Bahn station (i.e., the urban light rail system). The Berlin transit system is much more wheelchair-accessible than the Paris system, so I was mostly able to get into and out of the stations by ramp or elevator.

I managed to make it to my new apartment and get inside. Alas, the apartment is on the 3rd floor (i.e., 4th floor by American reckoning), and there was no elevator to make the trip easier. So I lugged my very, very heavy luggage up three flights of stairs to meet my new roommates covered in sweat.

After a glass of water and a moment to catch my breath, I struck up conversation with one of the roommates, who happens to also be involved in the Berlin techno scene. Yay! As it turns out, she was going to a friend’s birthday party in a converted industrial studio, so she invited me along as a warm-up for my later plans (it was Perlon night at Panorama Bar / Berghain, and I wasn’t going to miss that).

Obviously, I’m not going to blog in detail about a private party, so I’ll just say that it was a lot of fun, I got to meet a bunch of Berliners (“real” Berlin natives, which are pretty rare in Berlin now), and it was definitely a good warm-up for Berghain.

Berghain was as great and gritty and insane as it was the last time I was there, little more than a year ago. There was the same African-American guy checking bags, the heavily tattooed and pierced German guy at the door, and the same clusters of young partygoers. The only difference was that—as the first day of the summer for most European students—there was a lot of French and English to be overheard in the lineup.

I caught the last bit of Dan Bell’s vinyl set, which ran until 2am. Then Sammy Dee spun from 2am to 4am, showcasing the typical Perlon sound, with massive, resonant bass kicks and sparse punctuating patterns. As had been observed by me and another writer at mutek, this is apparently the summer of conga drums + minimal techno, as there were a lot of “tropical” sounds in the mix.

Dan Bell came on again at 4am to do a live set as DBX. The sound was great, although something about his set made me lose interest rather quickly. I stuck around to hear the beginning of Zip’s set, and then I headed back home around 5h30. Certainly, if I wanted to party properly in Berlin, I would’ve stuck it out until 10h00 or noon, but I had just finished about 4 days of non-stop travel, and I was running out of steam. While it was certainly a great way to celebrate the end of a very long and stressful period of my life, my body found its limits.

Certainly, one of the things that propelled me to leave Berghain / Panorama Bar was that I had run out of cash and I was terribly thirsty. I walked to the nearby S-Bahn / train station, climbed over the piles of burnt-out partygoers loafing about in the station, and found a Geldautomat (ATM machine). I withdrew 100€, and the stupid machine gave me two 50€ bills. Dammit. None of the small food stands around here is going to accept a bill this large and so frequently counterfeited.

But there was a McDonald’s open. Ah-ha! Large chain restaurants can’t just refuse bills because they feel like it. So I buy a cheap soft drink from there and break my bill, then wander back to the imbiss (food stand) near the entrance and get myself a Currywurst. Currywurst is a Berlin “specialty,” in the same way that poutine is a Montréal specialty. It usually involves some sort of pork sausage (Wurst), sliced and then covered in a “curry sauce,” which is usually ketchup with curry powder. Then, the whole ensemble is dusted with more curry powder. This is the sort of thing that you can only get at food stands, in a flimsy paper plate.

The currywurst at this particular imbiss was a bit lackluster, but the symbolic act of eating it to punctuate the end of a long period of travel and change was satisfying in itself. From there, I slouched my way into a train and headed back to the apartment to crash onto my bed in the morning sun.

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